Monday, February 06, 2006

Negative Sides of Igbo's Tradition in Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart"


This essay discusses the negative sides of Igbo’s tradition depicted in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart. Nigeria is rich with its traditions and each is fruitful with its own laws. This certain traditon along with its aspects of live is abudantly found in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. This novel talks about Igbo’s tribe and their tradition. The Igbo has a very rich and interesting tradition which definitely carries a high moral values as well as lessons. However, this essay searches the Igbo's tradition from the view points of its negative sides with no means to insult the traditions but on the contrary to widely open our horizon of thinking as well as to enrich the tradition itself. This essay focusses on the ways on Igbo's life, such as; their belief, marriage, and social and political structures.

4.1 Unfair Treatment to the Twins
In general, Igbo people are proud of having many children and big families. They are like common people with a hope they could educate them until adult. They hope their children would help them when they are old. The Igbo treat the children based on their traditional way. But when a mother bears twins, it not only creates a new problem for the mother of the twins but also endanger the condition of all villages as well. That is why in order to anticipate the bad things the parents of the twins should treat them as their traditional do. They bring the twins to the forest and leave them to die. People are commonly afraid of the twins because according to their fortune tellers and traditional belief the birth of twins bring bad luck. The following quotation shows how they treat the twins unfairly:
The Igbo believe that there was something abnormal and mystical about the twins. When people ask for rain, they do not expect a flood. Twins birth represented excessive fertility and had to be kept in cheek. After leaving the babies in the bush to die, the mother would undergo extensive rituals intended to prevent her from bearing more twins. If appropriate measures were not immediately taken, not only the parents of twins but the entirely community might suffer (Achebe:p.26).

From the above quotation, we can draw some conclusion that the Igbo people treat cruelly the twins and kill them. They think that twins as a source of misfortune and many difficulties. They do this because they just follow the tradition. They never think that the twins are also their babies who need their protection and tenderness. They blindly commit to their belief. The born children who need their cares should be killed because they should uphold their tradition.
It is clear that what the Igbo people do to their twins is not fair and against the human feeling and justice. The animal itself has no heart to kill its child except the beast. The Igbo people themselves are mostly primitive and traditionally much influenced by their belief of their ancestors. They are still mystically connected. But after the coming of the white in Nigerian, their belief and old tradition get some changes.
Actually, the Igbo themselves just follow what their ancestors have done. They never have any alternatives to find the solution of the born twins. The only way they have to do is to throw away the twins to the forest. They never think that what they have done to their own blood is quite wrong and unacceptable by those who believe in God and love.

4.2 Unfair Treatment to the Killer
Okonkwo has been regarded in his clan as a brave man, and he is appointed as one of the leaders in Umuofia. He has led the Igbo people in many tribal wars, and he has killed many enemies in the wars. He has also given a high position in his clan for he has brought honor to his clan by defeating Amalinze, a wrestler who has never been defeated before, in a wrestling contest. He could marry three wives and has many children.
It is a tradition for the Igbo to have ceremony on certain days. During a funeral for one of the great men of the clan by sudden, Okonkwo touches his gun unpurposely and unluckily the gun shoots a boy and causes him dead. Okonkwo has no intention to do it as it happens at a sudden. However, Okonkwo should stick on the Igbo traditional custom. The following quotation shows what happens to Okonkwo after the killing:
The only course open to Okonkwo was to flee from the clan. It was a crime against the earth goddess to kill a clansman and a man who committed it must flee from the land. The crimes was of two kinds, male and female. Okonkwo had committed the female, because it had been inadvertent. He could return to the clan after seven years (Achebe:p.88).

From the above quotation, it can be seen that the punishment for a killer of a person from the same clan is to flee from the clan. This course also happens to Okonkwo. No one can help him. Though he is one of the respected men in Umuofia, the rule applies to all its citizens. The rule cannot be bargained. It applies to all without seeing its status or position in the clan and without considering whether the doer does it purposely or not.
Okonkwo should leave the clan and move to another place, and live in that place for seven years. Okonkwo is regarded as a man who has put dirt to the earth where he is living on it. Okonkwo cannot refuse the punishment. Inevitably, he must obey the traditional custom of this clan.
Worse, the effect of the killing is not only to the killer but also to his family, and even to his properties. The people would do the traditional custom. They believe that what they do to the killer is the justice for the earth goddess. The following quotation shows how and what the Umuofians do to Okonkwo’s compound and properties:

As soon as the day broke, a large crowd of men from Ezeudu’s quarter stormed Okonkwo’s compound, garbs of war. They set fire to his houses, demolished his red walls, killed his animals and destroyed his barn. It was the justice of the earth goddess, and they were merely her messengers. They had no hatred in their hearts against Okonkwo who had polluted with the blood of a clansman (Achebe:p.88).

The above quotation tells us the unfair treatment to Okonkwo’s family and his properties. The crowd come together to his house to destroy his belongings, killing his animals and burn the house. From the quotation above, it can also be seen that the action is not based on the revenge for the death nor hatred for the killer but merely for the sake of their tradition and belief. They regard Okonkwo has polluted their lord by killing his clansman.
From the quotation above, it can be inferred that what have been done to Okonkwo is not fair because he has killed the boy accidentally, the gun in his hand explodes itself. It is also unfair to punish someone without any assistance to help him. Okonkwo is one of the leaders in the clan, and he has ever brought honor to the clan.
Okonkwo is strongly committed to the Igbo tradition. He does not want to argue about his mistake. He is just like a person who never becomes the member of the Igbo. He knows that he has lost his place among his people. He has lost the chance to lead the war of his clan against the white religion, which, he is told, has gained ground. He has lost the years in which he might have taken the highest titles in the clan.

4.3 Unfair Treatment to the Leprosy and Small Pox Sufferers
Another negative sides of tradition found in Things Fall Apart is that Igbo people do not appreciate the Leprosy and small pox sufferers. They consider that the leprosy and small pox sufferers as useless people in the society. Therefore, they are thrown away from the village. The people that suffer from the evil diseases are thrown away to the evil forest.
This place is believed as a dangerous area because the Igbo people throw the body of the leprosy and small pox sufferers to the area. Therefore, they believe that the area is full of evil spirits. The following quotation shows how the leprosy and small pox sufferers are treated:

Every clan and village had its “evil forest”. In it were buried all those who died of the really evil disease, like leprosy and small pox. It was also the dumping ground for the potent fetishes of great medicine men when they died. An “evil forest” was, therefore, alive with sinister force of darkness. It was suck a forest that the rulers of Mbanta gave to the missionaries (Achebe: p.105).

From the above quotation, it can be concluded that the Igbo people will not treat those who suffer from leprosy and small pox well. They regard that the sick would not only bring badness and misfortune for them as the members of society but also endanger the entire place. They send and isolate the leprosy sufferers to the special place and hope they would die there. This place is believed by the Igbo full evil. They call the area as “evil forest”. The leprosy and small pox sufferers are expected to die soon because they think that the disease can endanger their life.
The unfair treatment that the Igbo people give to the leprosy and small pox sufferers is actually against the fundamental of human values. The sick should be well treated and given a special attention. They should not be isolated as they need friends to comfort their heart and lighten their suffering. However, what they expect is beyond their wish. They have to face the unfair treatment from their own clan.

4.4 Unfair Treatment to the Body of Those Committing Suicide
Okonkwo is frustrated and deeply disappointed to his followers. What is expected from them is far from the fact. He decides to commit suicide by hanging himself on the tree. But for Igbo people, committing suicide is regarded as a shameful death. It is prohibited and against their traditional norms. The following quotation shows how the Igbo treat someone who has committed suicide:
……they came to the tree from which Okonkwo’s body was hanging, and they stopped dead. The district commission asked, ”why can not take him down yourselves? He asked. It is against our custom” said one of the Igbo. Only the strangers may touch it. It is an abomination for a man who commits. It will not be buried by his clansman. “His body is evil,” said one of the Igbo (Achebe:p.147).

From the above quotation, it can be seen that the Igbo people treat badly the body of Okonkwo who has committed suicide. They do not care whether the person is their ex-hero or respected man. They feel detested to the body. Okonkwo who has committed suicide is unfairly treated. They let his body hang on for along time on the tree till the strangers come to take him down. They are not allowed to touch Okonkwo’s corpse because it is believed that the body is full of dirt that can endanger their life and clan. Therefore, they cannot bury the body. The body can only be buried by outsiders or strangers. As it happens to the body of Okonkwo, they ask the white men to bury the corpse in hurry for they believe that the dead has stained their land. The Igbo will make a special sacrifice later to clean the land. They think that their place has been dirty due to the body of those committing suicide.

4.5 Unlimited Number of Wives
Polygamy is a marriage in which a man marries more than one wife. A man does polygamy with various reasons or background. It can be due to physical, political and traditional purposes. As it happens in Igbo’s traditional custom, polygamy is not only allowed but also requested. The more wives an Igbo man has, the more prestigious he will be in his community. The following quotation proves the above description.
In Igbo’s marriage, polygamy is not prohibited, even they are requested. Having several women in a household enhance not only a man’s status.... (Achebe: p. 22).

From the above quotation, it is clear that polygamy is allowed in Igbo society and even it is regarded as an indication that the man has a high social status in the clan. The First wife also helps her husband to find other woman to be the wives for his husband. If an Igbo man has mane wives, he has enhanced not only status in the clan but also the status of his first wife. It means that the first wife will be more prestigious if her husband has many wives. The following quotation proves the above description.

The prestige of the first wife as the head women of household, she shares every title that the man might acquire. She presided over household deliberations. Most men preferring not to get personally involved, except in emergencies. Junior wives enjoy the security and prosperity that large household provided, in addition, Igbo women had rights and freedoms that they are jealousy guarded. They lived in their separated house, cooked for themselves, and raised their children (Achebe: p.22).

From the above quotation, it is clear that the first wife will get a better status in household if their husband marries another woman. She will be the head of women in the big families. This attitude is, as a matter of facts would give only a little profit for the woman. In other sides, the woman has opened a chance for the man to have unlimited number of women. The below statement can be shown in this quotation:

There was a wealthy man in Okonkwo’s village who had three huge barns, nine wives, and thirty children. His name was Ogbuefi and he had taken the highest but one title which a man could take in the clan (Achebe: p.14).

From the quotation above, it can be seen that polygamy upheld by the Igbo people is really unfair because an Igbo people can have unlimited numbers of wives. The wealthier the man is the more women he can marry, and the more wives he has the more prestigious he will be. Besides, the polygamy itself is merely for the sake of the able persons while the purpose of the polygamy is to seek for social status, because the numbers of wives will enhance man’s status in his society. It is very strange that such a thing is welcome by Igbo’s women. We do not know exactly the main reasons why they support their husband to marry other women. Therefore, polygamy which Igbo people uphold is not suitable for the present condition

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